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Pain In The Back Of Knee: Causes & Remedies

The "back of the knee" or the "knee pit" is actually scientifically known as Popliteal fossa (the depression in the back of the knee). However, it is something that we rarely think about and most of us never knew the actual name. It's just... the back of the knee. That is until we suffer pain in that area. In most cases, pain in the back of knee can be attributed to an injury.

However, pain in the knee and behind the knee joint (also known as posterior knee pain)can be ascribed to a variety of causes. A wide range of issues may be the cause, from trivial to crippling pain in the back of the knee can be an indicator of preventative measures needing to be taken.

Pain in the back of the knee.

If you are experiencing severe pain that is negatively affecting your quality of life, ask your doctor immediately about the possible measures to be taken. Provided is a brief guide to the possible causes of—and treatments for—posterior knee pain.



Pain that occurs behind one's knee may be a symptom of inflammation or tearing of the ligaments or the popliteus tendon. The pain may be caused by an injury sustained while engaging in activities such as running, kick-boxing and sprinting, which stress the biceps femoris tendon and the knee joint.

Often, an injury of this nature will produce pain which is sharp, sudden in its onset and localized, behind the knee. Shortly after sustaining a hamstring injury, victims might experience a dull ache which, intensifies with any sudden or vigorous movement. Hamstring injuries will, likely, cause some mild swelling behind the knee and may simply need painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication.

The process for treatment of a mildly injured hamstring, combines four initial parts. One will want to rest the knee while icing the back of the knee. In addition, compressing the knee with a bandage or brace, and elevating the knee, will help to reduce the swelling.

People who experience this type of injury may benefit from preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of ongoing problems. There are several physical therapy exercises and programs which strengthen the leg muscles and reduce the likelihood of similar strains and sprains.

Meniscus Tear

Tears, in either of the two crescent-shaped pieces of cartilage in the knee (known as the menisci), can cause pain at the back of one's knee. A tear in the meniscus is often incurred by strenuous overuse of the knee or a sudden twisting while engaged in high intensity activity. A meniscus tear can result in pain and the sensation of the knee becoming locked up.

This can result in the leg being difficult to extend. If the tear is bad enough, it may need surgery to rectify. However, treatment often follows the same basic process as a hamstring injury.

Using a topical ointment, cream, gel or spray, can assist in relieving minor aches and pains caused by sprains or strains. On areas of the body that are harder to reach, such as the back of the knee, a spray-on topical ointment might work well to mitigate discomforts associated with an injury.

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Injured Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)

The cruciate ligament helps to provide stability for the back of the knee and can be the cause of pain which derives from this area. The PCL is one of the strongest ligaments in the knee and is much less likely to become damaged, as opposed to the meniscus and hamstrings.

The PCL can be injured through a knee injury when one's knee gets overextended, or when the knee receives a violent blow while in a bent position, such as crouching or running mid-stride. When this type of injury occurs, it is common to experience severe pain swelling, joint instability and pain behind the knee.

Treatment of an injured PCL includes, but is not limited to, similar treatment as an injured meniscus. Victims of an injury to the PCL must be sure to remain immobile until swelling has been reduced through anti-inflammatory medication, and use bandages or braces for mobile stability.

Surgery is rarely needed unless the knee has become dislocated, or similar. If there is any question as to the treatment or for an accurate identification of an injury, contact your doctor immediately.


Osteoarthritis (OA)

One disease that can lead to pain occurring behind one's knee is Osteoarthritis, which, degenerates the cartilage of the knee, meant to provide cushioning between one’s joints. Persons who have osteoarthritis will experience stiffness, swelling and pain around the knee and other weight bearing ligaments of their body. This pain can sometimes become more so at night.

Treatments will follow a course to reduce inflammation and provide pain control through NSAIDs and cyclooxygenase 2 inhibitor drugs. Also, physical therapy and occasional steroid injections for the joints may be implemented to strengthen the leg and knee muscles. In some extreme cases, a total replacement of the knee may be suggested.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

RA is an autoimmune disease which affects the joints, and especially the weight bearing joints, of one's body. It does this by attacking the synovial lining of the bodies joints, in turn, causing inflammation and damage. The knees can be negatively affected by RA, causing pain in many places, including behind the knee.

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Unlike OA, the knee pain associated with RA is often spread across both knees, more painful in the morning and can include swelling and stiffness. Contact your doctor for treatment options, which will likely include NSAIDs, COX 2 inhibitors, steroids, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Life-Threatening Causes

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

DVT is a blood clot which can develop in large veins behind the knee, thigh or calf. These clots can be exacerbated by trauma, sitting for long periods of time, cardiovascular diseases, and history of DVT in the family. The pain will often be localized, with symptoms of swelling, tenderness, redness and temperature increase.

Treatment includes blood thinners, surgical removal and other treatments. DVT is a serious medical issue, seeing as the clot might break free to be able to travel to the lungs. Seek medical attention.


Pain from behind the knee being caused by a tumor is rare. If other options have been disqualified, it can be taken into consideration. Tumors behind the knee might be benign; however, they might also be serious.

The three relevant kinds of tumors one might find behind the knee are Liposarcomas, Synovial Sarcomas and Osteosarcomas. Treatments for tumors vary, however, often they include chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and surgery.

Other Causes Of Pain Behind The Knee

Popliteal Cyst

Also referred to as a Baker's Cyst, Popliteal cysts are areas of localized swelling. They are a secondary symptom of some injuries and inflammatory diseases. The cyst takes form as a ball-shaped protrusion that bulges from a buildup of fluid behind the knee. Some people report this as being painless, while some users report it as causing significant pain and discomfort.

Popliteal cyst.

Popliteal cysts can result in a limited range of motion in the flex of one's knee. However, it does not typically require medical attention, apart from the underlying cause. On occasion, cysts may be removed surgically or drained, if the size or symptoms thereof cause the patient significant pain.

Seek advice and assistance from a medical professional if symptoms worsen or seam irregular. Pain on the back of the knee can originate from many things and, no matter how small the issue seems, prudence dictates keeping a keen eye on one's own health to prevent a serious problem.

The ability to prevent minor and serious health problems is dependent on the care and attention one gives to their body on a daily basis.

Feel free to leave comments and questions. Be well.



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